I AM HAPPY that P-Noy himself clarified categorically that while he is against jueteng, eradicating the illegal numbers game is not on top of his to-do list. “That’s a low priority for me,” he said.
I surmise it saddened Archbishop Oscar Cruz, a staunch anti-gambling crusader, although I suspect that a good number of bishops heaved a sigh of relief, for they, too, receive jueteng payoffs. Good example is an Ilocos prelate whose retirement house was built by a jueteng lord, a fact the man of cloth does not deny. Then there are churches built or renovated using jueteng money, and sadly this includes the cathedral I used to frequent as a child. The late Cardinal Jaime Sin justified this, saying “the church will accept money from the devil as long as it goes to the poor.” Holy cow!
It should be noted that Jueteng, legal or illegal, has existed since the Spanish era. A recent article from the Manila Bulletin notes that in 1893, lottery/jueteng tickets were openly sold even on board passenger boats to the Visayan islands and Mindanao. One lottery addict was our hero Rizal, whose long stay in Madrid had attracted him to the institution of lottery. On that year, the hero of the Malay race, while in Dapitan, won a substantial jackpot of P6,000, equivalent to at least a million pesos today, which he used to buy agricultural lands.
One wonders why, even after perennial government attempts to clamp the illegal numbers game down, it survives, and even flourishes. One asks why it continues to pervade our local and national lives.
An answer can be gleaned from functionalist theory which explains that anything that has existed in society for a long time does so because it fulfills an important function. It is there because it responds to a need. It is there because it feels a gap. It is there because it should be there, less a dysfunction exist.
Job generation is an essential function jueteng plays. Hundreds of thousands of Filipino families are dependent on it, including Mandela, our middle-aged neighbor. Mandy is a very efficient man. He cheerfully goes around the neighborhood to collect bets all day and until the night. A few minutes before the 12 noon, 6 pm, and 10 pm cut-off times, you would hear him shout “habooool.”
And when the winning combinations have been drawn, he would do the rounds again to keep the neighborhood posted. Mandy has never been the subject of complaints. Patient and trustworthy, he is well-loved in the community.
Hundreds of thousands of other Mandelas depend on jueteng to sustain their families. Following the downfall of Erap in 2000, jueteng in our place, as with other areas in the country, halted for a while, and Mandela was left with almost no bread to break. He was reduced to abject poverty, and it was not at all because he was lazy, God knows how hardworking and dedicated the man is, but only that there were no jobs.
And when people don’t have jobs, they are drawn to do things evil. The old proverb is true: an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. Work gives dignity to man, it gives him meaning, a feeling of importance. It makes one responsible. You eradicate jueteng and render these people jobless, you lead them closer to vices and mischief while their families miss decent meals.
Saying that the poor should not gamble because they are poor speaks of double standard. As a policy, government is not actually against gambling. That is why there is the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, actually a euphemism for what should be called the Philippine Gambling Authority. But, if a tycoon can go to casinos to squander as many millions as he wishes to, why can’t a taho vendor spend one peso for jueteng? Choosing two numbers from 1 to 37, one could place a bet for as low as one peso and win over 400 pesos. Five pesos can deliver you 2000 bucks, almost a month’s salary for a kasambahay.
Erap, ex-president and ex-convict, is not exactly an icon of intelligence but he makes much sense in saying that “the continued stigmatization and illegal status of jueteng is a form of discrimination of the poor, because the gambling pasttimes of the well-to-do have long been legal.”
What I consider as the most important function Jueteng plays is that it gives people hope, the kind of hope politicians and bishops should give but cannot.
Jueteng flourished during the Arroyo regime not only because Malacañang tolerated it and benefitted from it, but more because our people needed hope more than they ever needed it before. La Gloria appearing on TV to announce that the economy grew by 7.3 never excited the people. It only made us more depressed and agitated thinking why we remain poor and destitute despite the figures. But Mandela announcing the winning numbers three times a day is three times a fountain of hope, three times something to look forward to, three times something to wake up to in the morning, to pursue at day, and dream for at night.
Hope, dear karikna, is a very crucial commodity. Bereft of hope, people either go berserk or commit suicide. “But it is false hope,” you might say, to which I will argue that false hope is better than no hope at all, although the hope jueteng provides is not exactly false because there are true people who truly win every single day. In an ideal world, there must be no need for Jueteng, but one only has to look around to know that Philippine society is the antithesis of the ideal. And Jueteng is not a problem, but only a symptom of a bigger social malaise.
True, jueteng must be stopped as it has compromised the integrity of our social institutions: government, church, military and police, and even the media, but the best way to proceed is not through highly-publicized raids and useless senate investigations, but by addressing its raison d’être, the reasons it exists.
P-Noy vowed to bring back hope (not his brand of cigarette) to the people. Let us see if the amount of hope he brings forth is enough, because if it is, jueteng can be contained faster than he can reach his destinations sans the wangwang, and even faster than he can propose marriage to Shalani.
I do not bet in Jueteng, and I have only learned about it from people who do. Writing this column, I thought of personally talking to a jueteng cabo (chief collector) in our vicinity. I see him and his team of cobradors everyday, but never before had the chance to talk to them.
After explaining to me exhaustively how jueteng works, the cabo asked for my “numero”. Told that I have no money to spare, he said it is okay, and that he’d place for me a ten-peso bet. He wanted to reward my curiosity. I said 10-27, a combination my tongue churned out instantaneously, something I never thought about.
“Excellent,” he said, his eyes widening, gazing at my shining, shimmering, widening forehead, “the numbers mean , ‘mayamang kalbo’”.